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WASHINGTON, D.C. - Israel's Ambassador to the United States on Sunday told American Jewish groups that they must press for sanctions on Iran, and condemned the findings of a United Nations commission on the Gaza conflict between Israel and Hamas, which he said helped to "cast widespread doubts about Israel's legitimacy."

Speaking at the opening ceremony for the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, Michael Oren said that while Israel "is in better geopolitical situation than ever before," it still faces threats, from members of the Palestinian leadership who do not want peace, as well as Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and their patron, Iran.

While Israel recognizes the right of the Palestinian people to a state, he said, "we are hard pressed to find Palestinian leaders who say the same thing about us, that there is the Jewish people who have a historical right, an inalienable right to a state in the homeland."

"Israeli withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza that were reciprocated not with peace but with thousands and thousands of rockets," he said.

"In addition to the terrorists who hide behind their own civilians while firing rockets at Israeli towns and villages, there is a radical Iranian regime that backs those terrorists and vows to wipe Israel off the map; an Iranian regime that is assiduously working to acquire the wherewithal for nuclear weapons."

But, he said, "Israel can and will defend itself? We will fight the terrorists, we will protect ourselves from Iran and we will resist attempts to discredit us."

It is up to American Jewish communities to add Iran to their list of causes, Oren told the conference. Next to the banners by synagogues and Jewish groups protesting the genocide in Darfur and the hunger in Africa, he said, there should also be banners calling for sanctions on Iran, and to "stop the Iranian bomb."

On the UN report into the Gaza fighting, Oren said when Israel tries to defend itself from danger, "much of the world rushes to condemn Israel for committing war crimes, and even crimes against humanity. The condemnation such as that in the so-called Goldstone report cast widespread doubts about Israel's legitimacy."

Oren drew a direct line in Jewish history from "an obscure group of nomads" some three thousand years ago who "came up with the extraordinary notion of the existence of a single God," and who were given a land, to the Jews of post-Holocaust Europe - "a tiny remnant? rising from the ashes of the world's greatest massacre returned to that land, and they reclaimed it."

In that land, Oren said, the people created a "vibrant democracy there, and the first Jewish defense force in 2,000 years," and revived "the language in which God had first spoken to them."

He said Israel was now facing questions about its legitimacy, not only from its traditional enemies but also from young people in the U.S., both Jews and non-Jews.

He told the conference that Israel's ability to withstand the "onslaught of delegitimization" depends on the unity of the Jewish people, not just in Israel, but in communities all over the world.

"Our strength derives from the belief that we have a right to independence in our tribal land, the land of Israel, and that Jews have a right to defend themselves, there and everywhere. That Jews have a right to survive as Jews and as a legitimate nation."